A group of migrants in the town of Briancon, southeastern France | Photo: Guillaume Horcajuelo / archive / EPA
A group of migrants in the town of Briancon, southeastern France | Photo: Guillaume Horcajuelo / archive / EPA

The Italian organization Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU) has denounced the critical situation of migrants who attempt to reach France from Italy through the Alpine border.

The situation of migrants who try to cross the Alpine border to reach France from Italy remains extremely critical, the Italian organization Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU) said in a statement published last week.

The statement released on February 4 highlighted, as already reported by the NGO last November, that the migrant flow in this area is considerable. In the majority of cases entire families are migrating, often with very young children, MEDU said.

Between July and December last year, a reported 390 minors reached France through Italy's northwestern Alpine order. The youngest was just 14 days old.

Overall an estimated 4,700 people traveled through the Italian town of Oulx between September and December, according to the organization. Most of the migrants hailed from Afghanistan (44%), Iran (23%) and Algeria (8%).

Only a small minority of those who crossed had reached Italy through the central Mediterranean route, the statement said.

Migrants reached the border area in extremely precarious physical and psychological conditions due to the difficulties and abuses they often endured during their journey, particularly along the Balkan route.

Dangers at the border

The organization highlighted that snow and freezing winter temperatures make the journey through the mountains particularly dangerous. Migrants risk getting lost, being swept away by an avalanche or hypothermia and operations to rescue migrants occur on a daily basis, MEDU noted.

Moreover, the growing militarization of the French border forces those attempting the crossing to choose longer and more dangerous routes, increasing the risk of an accident.

The organization also reported an increase in controls, frequent episodes of intimidation by border police and systematic pushbacks of migrants.

There are three shelters on the Italian and French sides of the border but they all risk closure or imminent eviction, MEDU said.

Three shelters

The Refuge Solidaire in Briançon hosts people who succeeded in crossing the border after trekking for hours in the snow in freezing temperatures, often in conditions of hypothermia or with limbs beginning to freeze.

The network of maradeurs, volunteer rescuers who look for the missing in the mountains, have grown to include over 200 people.

On the Italian side, two shelters are located in Oulx: the rifugio Fraternità Massi-Talità Kum, which can host 40 people and is only open from 4 in the afternoon until 10 in the morning. It offers assistance at night mainly for those who are pushed back from Monginevro or Frejus and who are accompanied by police or the Red Cross.

The self-managed shelter Chez JesOulx hosts the majority of migrants who reach the area; on average 30 people a day with peaks of 80 during the months with the highest number of arrivals.

Between September and December 2020, the shelter hosted more than 3,500 people and the center Fraternità Massi-Talità Kum about 1,200.

Evictions threatened

The announced eviction of Chez JesOulx would probably result in the overcrowding of the only center left open or, worse, it would leave men, women and children without shelter in harsh winter temperatures, MEDU said.

MEDU is appealing to institutions, saying that, "in spite of the grave situation, exasperated by the lack of an adequate healthcare response, by overcrowding in informal hosting centers and freezing temperatures, no adequate response has yet been approved by institutions on either side of the Alps."

The organization asked for the collaboration of volunteers, associations and institutions to urgently organize a hosting plan that respects the human rights of migrants. It also asked for an increase in the number of shelters and for the facility Fraternità Massi-Talità Kum in Oulx to be opened 24 hours a day.

In addition, MEDU asked authorities not to evict migrants from the self-managed shelter, to create a healthcare facility to treat migrants and to provide information on the dangers of the crossing and on how to ask for help to apply for international protection.


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